This is a short discussion of cooking and its uses.
Short version: don’t cook. Unless you want to. It’s not very efficient compared to other ways to make money.
There are three main motivations for cooking: the buffs provided by the foods, the nanites you can get for turning in food to Cronus, and selling the foods for units.
The buffs simply aren’t worth it. Food is bulky and expensive compared to ordinary ways of refreshing your life support or hazard bar, like life support gel or ion batteries. You’re much better off selling the food you make and buying those.
Cronus is a bit undercooked. Mainly it’s that he requires that you hand food items in one at a time. Food would be an excellent source of nanites if it weren’t for that. I once gained 160,000 nanites from him, which took me about an hour of cooking stuff from my farm, but 2 hours handing in the items one at a time. It’s incredibly boring.
Cronus is a bit of plebian. He doesn’t care about fancy, expensive dishes. Fibrous Stew requires 2x Fungal Mould to make, and 15 seconds of processing per item, and yields almost 70 nanites. He won’t give you more than 100 nanites on average, even for dishes worth 30x as much and requiring 4x the processing time. The actual amount is highly random, but the maximum average is about 94.
If you’re going to make nanites this way, your best choices are either Fibrous Stew (2x Fungal Mould -> 2x Nontoxic Mushrooms -> Fibrous Stew) or Delicious Vegetable Stew (2 x Fungal Mould -> 2x Steamed Vegetables -> 1 x Flavorsome Sauce + Fibrous Stew -> Delicious Vegetable Stew).
Vegetable Stew requires 4 Fungal Mould total and 45 seconds of processing per item, twice the materials and 3x the time, and only yields 38% more nanites. In terms of preparation, it’s inefficient in terms of material and time, but it’s not the preparation that’s the bottleneck, it’s handing it in to Cronus. Increased speed handing it in can be well worth it.
Selling Food for Units
Finally, there’s selling the food for cash. Balance here is a lot better than Cronus – generally speaking, the more time you spend cooking something, the more steps it takes, the more unit-efficient the sale will be.
The problem is materials, investment required, and speed. More than anything else, the problem is that the Oxygen -> Chlorine conversion cycle via refiner is quite efficient, and you can rapidly buy unlimited quantities of oxygen from pilots at a space station or trading post.
Oxygen -> Chlorine generates about 1,600 units / second per refiner. Cooking generally tops out at about 500 units / second from farmable materials, and 1,700 units / second using animal products. This is somewhat offset by the limit of 5 refiners in a ground base, and the relatively low price of nutrient processors.
You can farm materials for food, but getting that set up requires either a significant investment in research, or running through the Farmer quest. By contrast, you can buy oxygen right away.
Let’s assume you’re going to cook anyway. The enormous number of recipes can be very confusing, but the final products break down into a few categories.
Least lucrative are Stews. These go by a variety of names, but they’re all basically 2 raw ingredients to make a basic stew, 2 cooked ingredients (usually Steamed Vegetables) to get a sauce, and then basic stew + sauce -> final stew. Delicious Vegetable Stew and Herb Encrusted Flesh are the mainstays here, and sell for 18,800 each, or 940,000 a stack. This increases the value of plants like Fungal Mould from their raw value of 16 each to 4,700 each.
The main advantage of Delicious Vegetable Stew is you can make it from farmable plants, and so you can grow the materials in bulk.
Stews set the baseline value of plants in other recipes. If a recipe requires 3 plants to make, those 3 plants could make vegetable stews worth about 15,000 units.
Anything better than a stew requires milk or eggs. Mostly milk. Gathering these from animals is easy, but slow. You throw out a single pellet, and after the animals swarm it, you can harvest them. It’s not hard to get 10 animals clustered around you, harvesting about 30 milk after each pellet. Unfortunately you’re harvesting it all 1 at a time.
The automatic harvester / automatic feeder is better, but requires substantial investment in Salvaged Data and materials to build. They’re still slow to generate materials, and they don’t work unless you’re fairly close.
Almost all animals yield milk. Very few yield eggs. Predators and some oddballs like blobs yield some unusual, outlier products, but mostly it’s milk and a handful of eggs.
Supporting these are refined flour, which you get by processing Frost Crystals twice, and Refined Sugar, which you get by processing Cactus Flesh twice.
Types of Recipes
In order of profit, the broad categories are pastry puffs, ice creams, pies, cakes and doughnuts. For each of these, you make a base item (i.e. a pie case), and then add a filling to complete it (i.e. meat, cactus jam, etc.) Every finished item in a category is about the same value, with few exceptions for valuable fillings. For example, almost all finished pies are 40,000 units each.
Many raw items can be used as filling, such as crab “apples” and sticky “honey.” The baseline here is Cactus Jelly, which is Cactus -> Cactus Nectar -> Refined Sugar + more Cactus Nectar -> Cactus Jelly. It’s easy to make, and only requires Cactus, which you can grow.
A notable filling is Viscous Custard, which is Cream + Egg + Refined Sugar. This produces items that sell for higher prices than foods with regular fillings. With the exception of the Soft Custard Fancy, though, most recipes which use custard as filling aren’t very efficient.
Pies are Refined Flour + Butter -> Pastry -> Pie Case + filling -> final pie. They sell for about 40,000 each, or 2 million per stack, but only require 1 cream and 3 plants.
Since the plants are worth about 15,000, the 1 cream adds about 25,000 in value. Much better than Puff Pastries or Ice Creams. Pies set our baseline value for cream – if we’re not getting at least 25,000 per cream, we should just make pies instead.
A Custard Tart (pie case + viscous custard) sells for 78,000 and requires 1 egg, 2 cream, and 3 plants (2 flour and 1 sugar). This is 63,000 for the egg and 2 creams. If we value the 2 creams at 50,000 in basic pies, the egg is worth 13,000 here.
A basic Puff Pastry is Egg + Sugar -> Meringue + Flour + Egg -> Extra Fluffy Batter + Filling, and sells for about 25,000 each, or 1.2 million / stack. It’s all eggs and no cream. 1 Sugar + 1 Flour + 1 Cactus Nectar is 3 plants, so we value those at about 15,000 units. A Soft and Spiky Surprise adds about 10,000 units for 2 eggs, which at 5000 units / egg is a poor conversion rate.
Custard makes them much better. A Soft Custard Fancy is Extra Fluffy Batter + Viscous Custard, and sells for 95,000 each, or 4.8 million / stack. A Soft Custard Fancy needs 3 eggs, 1 cream, and 3 plants. If the plants are worth 15,000 and the cream is worth 25,000, the 3 eggs add an additional 55,000, or 18,300 per egg.
Ice creams are Viscous Custard + Frost Crystal + a filling, and sell for about 44,000 each, or 2.2 million / stack. An ice cream requires 1 egg + 1 cream + 4 plants.
Since the plants are worth about 20,000, this converts 1 egg + 1 cream to about 24,000 in extra value. Since we can get 25,000 extra from a Pie for just 1 Cream, you should never make Ice Cream.
Cakes are cream -> butter + sugar -> sweetened butter + flour + egg -> cake batter + filling -> finished cake. Most cakes sell for about 58,000 or 2.9 million a stack, and requires 1 egg, 1 cream, and 3 plants. This adds 43,000 compared to the plants. If cream is worth 25,000 in pies, adding the egg adds 18,000 units compared to pies.
This is the best value we’re going to get for eggs for ordinary dishes.
A Custard Fancy (pie case + viscous custard) sells for 85,000 or 4.2 million a stack, and requires 2 eggs, 2 cream, and 3 plants. This is 27,000 more than a basic cake, at the cost of an additional cream and egg. If cream is worth 25,000 each, we’re only getting 2,000 for the additional egg, so Custard Fancies are a poor deal.
Doughnuts are butter + butter -> oil, faecium -> wild yeast, yeast + flour -> dough, dough + oil + sugar -> doughnut + filling -> finished doughnut. It’s a lot of steps, and requires 2 cream. Jam doughnuts sell for 70,000 each, or 3.5 million / stack and require 2 cream and 5 plants.
The plants (yeast, flour, sugar, cactus jam) are worth about 25,000, so we get 45,000 for 2 cream, or 22,500 each. This isn’t as good as pies.
Custard doughnuts (basic doughnut + viscous custard) sell for 105,000 each, or 5 million / stack, and require 3 cream, 1 egg, and 4 plants. If the cream is worth 75,000 in pies and the plants are worth 20,000, we’re getting about 10,000 for the egg. Cakes are a better use of eggs.
Conclusions for Regular Foods
Basic cakes, like Esophageal Surprise (cake batter + cactus nectar) are your best conversion of animal products to units if you have both cream and eggs. Soft Custard Fancies (Extra Fluffy Batter + Viscous Custard) also have a good egg -> units conversion ratio.
If you don’t have eggs, simple pies convert cream to money efficiently.
If you don’t have any animal products, you’re pretty much stuck with making Delicious Vegetable Stew.
Larval Cores are fairly risky to obtain and rare, so you’re never going to have a lot of them. The question is, what to do with them?
You can refine them into nanites, but it’s better to cook them into something expensive, sell the item, and then get nanites through scrapping ships for nanites.
You can sell them straight, and that’s a better conversion rate than refining them to nanites, but it’s well worth cooking them if you have invested in Nutrient Processors.
Choking Monstrosity Cake is good. It’s Larval Core + Sweetened Butter + Flour -> Wailing Batter + Cactus Nectar, and sells for 170,000 each. That’s a 85,000 unit gain compared to the value of the plants and the Larval Core, for the cost of a single cream. It’s quite the bargain.
You can go all out and make Horrifying Gooey Delight which sells for 200,000 each, but it’s not so great. That’s Wailing Batter + Viscous Custard, which means it costs and additional 1 cream and 1 egg, netting 30,000 for 2 animal products, or only 15,000 each. Several other dishes make better use of the egg + cream combination.
Hypnotic Eyes are another rare cooking ingredient, but they’re much less interesting than Larval Cores. Just convert them to Horrifying Mush and sell them for 90,000 units each. There are lots of ways to make Abyssal Stew, but they all involve additional ingredients, and the Stew only sells for the same 90,000 units.